The Genteel
April 17, 2021


The Barrique exhibit features 34 wooden home decor items made in a unique collaboration between San Patrignano, Europe's largest drug rehabilitation centre, and some of the world's top designers and architects. Photograph courtesy of San Patrignano.

The items featured in Barrique were constructed
by San Patrignano's carpentry department 
using deconstructed oak wine barrels.  
Photograph courtesy of San Patrignano.

Old oak barrels that once helped nurture grapes into fine wine have been given new lease on life in Northern Italy. The barriques have been reincarnated into one-of-a-kind home décor items that range from rocking horses and a cradle, to lamps and tables.

In total, 34 items have been created using the recycled oak in a unique collaboration between a host of the world's most renowned designers and architects - including names like Ferragamo, Missoni and Libeskind - and patients of San Patrignano, Europe's largest drug rehabilitation centre.

The designs, which have come together in an exhibition entitled Barrique: The Third Life of Wood, made their debut in April 2012 at the Milan Furniture Fair. Now the exhibit is embarking on a five-month American tour, having already visited Boston, New York and Washington and continuing on to five other cities before making its final appearance in Atlanta from September 15 to October 13.

The idea for Barrique came about two years ago when wood furniture designer Maurizio Riva visited San Patrignano out of personal interest and saw first-hand how the centre works. The organisation operates a free, residential drug rehabilitation programme that, at present, is treating over 1,300 people from around the world. There are three branches in Northern Italy, each of which offers educational programmes, as many members of the community work towards earning diplomas and university degrees. Additionally, San Patrignano teaches skills and vocations that can help sustain its rehabilitation programmes and also provide a livelihood for members once they've completed their treatment and return to society. Two of these trades, carpentry and winemaking, have come to the forefront with Barrique.


For its American tour, contributions from 
Arnaldo Pomodoro, Daniel Libeskind and 
Chiara Ferragamo were added to the exhibit. 
Here, Ferragamo's Draghessa chair.  
Photograph courtesy of San Patrignano.

Riva recalls that during his visit, residents took him on a tour of the vineyards and cellars where they are able to hone their skills in winemaking, a trade that is strongly rooted in Italian culture. They casually explained that they discard more than 300 barriques each year - a fact that got Riva thinking. "After about three steps, I said 'Stop, wait, don't throw anything away! I've got an idea and will put together a project with some of my design friends,'" Riva recounts. "In the blink of an eye, they were on board."

The idea to help San Patrignano through design is one which "really comes form the heart," Riva says, adding, "I'm a designer, so this was the best way I know how to give back and be a part of such an inspiring social change movement." Soon enough, he was rounding up friends from Italy and abroad, asking each to design an object of furniture or home décor that could be constructed from the recycled wooden barrels at San Patrignano. 

Contributor to the project Aldo Cibic recalls Riva's request in his artist statement for the exhibition's catalogue: "A designer's work, I have to say, is a fun one; one day, a friend (in this case) sends you an old stick of curved wood and asks you to make it into something interesting. It's not any old piece of wood, but one that possesses a history with various implications: I'd like to point out that the raw material already has a soul of its own."

It wasn't, however, the first time that Riva reached out to friends with an idea for recycling wood. Through his furniture company Riva 1920, he also runs Briccole, an initiative that recycles the oak posts that stand along Venice's famous canals. Known in Italian as briccole, these pieces of wood are used to guide boats and must be replaced every five to 10 years due to erosion, according to the Riva 1920 website. So, he decided to transform the briccole into furniture items designed by himself and others, and sold through Riva 1920. Many of the same designers who have lent their talent to Briccole are also participating in Barrique.

...beyond the artistic merits of Barrique, the project is truly about shining a light on [San Patrignano] and the issue of drug addiction in general.

In the case of the latter, after the design and conception of the items were complete, the carpentry department of San Patrignano took over. Under the leadership of department head Marco Stefanini, a member of the organisation's staff, 80 patients had the task of turning the concepts into reality. They dismantled the wine barrels into individual staves that they subsequently used as building material for the new items.  

The final products include tables, chairs, swings, children's toys and even a baby's crib. The latter is the one design contributed by San Patrignano's patients whereas the designers Riva recruited made the rest. Like Cibic, many of them considered the history of the wood that would be crafted into their products. For example, Carlo Colombo writes in his artist statement that he began his design process by thinking about the barriques and how they have been used over the years to transport produce on ships; the curved staves of his Wine Table are bound in a way which resembles a boat.

Other participating designers like Valerio Cometti took inspiration from San Patrignano and the very people who would bring his ideas to life. In the artist statement for his "Arco" and "Horn" lamps, Cometti explains, "Always intending to pay homage to the work of the Community, I wanted to create light-filled objects, lamps, metaphors of a new beginning and a renewed ability to design energy and hope, just like the individuals who know how to illuminate their way as well as that of those close to them upon leaving San Patrignano."

Indeed, Letizia Moratti, the former Mayor of Milan and one of San Patrignano's greatest advocates, says that beyond the artistic merits of Barrique, the project is truly about shining a light on the organisation and the issue of drug addiction in general. She wants the world to know that people can beat their addictions with the help of programmes like San Patrignano, which in addition to being free and residential is also long term, with the average treatment period being three to four years. The success rate for participants several years after leaving the programme is 72 per cent, making it one of the most effective organisations of its kind.

Angela Missoni, who previously worked  
on Maurizio Riva's Briccole initiative,
contributed the design for the 
Miss Dondola swing. Photograph by 
Patrick Macleod from Guest of a Guest.

Part of that success, Moratti says, is that community members generally undertake types of work like farming, carpentry and cooking, which have tangible results; as they are able to see the fruits of their labour in projects like Barrique, they are filled with a sense of pride and gratification - something which is important as they work toward reintegrating into society. Furthermore, the final products created for Barrique, like other projects undertaken, allow them the give back to San Patrignano financially. According to Moratti, at the conclusion of the American tour, the one-of-a-kind pieces in the exhibit will be auctioned off to benefit the community, which despite being free to residents does not rely on government grants. 

And at the end of Barrique's stay in America, both Moratti and Riva say they hope the American public has a greater knowledge of and appreciation for San Patrignano and the work it does to fight drug addiction. "There is a hope," Moratti says. "We'd like to make people understand that there is a hope and San Patrignano is there to help people from all over the world when in need."



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